Learning new leadership skills

It is never too late to lean new skills – especially when it comes to Leadership.

Dawn Lawson has been running her own business for over ten years. Starting as a way to work for herself and to work from home, 1st Class Secretarial now delivers a range of secretarial skills including digital audio typing services, audio transcription services, copy typing and general administrative services.

Dawn leads a team of 6 in her office and organises a team of 25 home-based audio transcriptionists to deliver 24/7 secretarial services to her clients, taking care of large and small projects, and working in different time zones.

As Dawn puts it, “We’re a team that never sleeps!”

So why after 10 years running a very successful business has Dawn decided to take a course in Leadership Skills?

“I started the business 10 years ago and at that time I was working from home. Very quickly it became clear that there was more work, particularly for audio transcription, than I could handle myself. I gradually built up my team of homebased transcriptionists and I now have 25 people working for me from their homes and 6 in the office. I had no real growth plan at the start and the business has gradually eveolved. I left school without qualifications and have had no formal training since then so I felt that I didn’t have all the skills needed to lead my team and my business.”

I have to say that I found this willingness to learn refreshing. In the days when I was involved in technolgy transfer and small business start-up in the biotechnology sector I lost count of the number of small business owners who thought that they knew everything and that they had all the skills they needed to start, grow and build a business. The ones I dealt with that persisted with this attitude all failed..sonner or later. I asked Dawn how she is gaining these new leadership skills?

“The local college, Jewel and Esk College, is currently offering a course, at level 3, from The Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM). The course runs for 2 hours each week for 16 weeks. There is a small group of us attending, drawn from a wide range of jobs. There are 9 women and 6 men. There are two other business owners and some people lead or manage projects rather than leading teams. The diversity of the group adds value in itself as you get to see how other organisations work. ”

So, how is it going?
“I am currently seven weeks in and so far the course has covered leadership styles, theories of leadership and looked at the differences between management and leadership. An interesting aspect for me was that my staff had to complete a questionaire as part of a project to find out what kind of leadership style I had. I completed the same questionare which would reveal what sort of style I thought that I had. Naturally I was concerned that their impression of me and my leadership style would be totally different from how I thought I behaved! ”

“The results were really interesting as it showed that I had a pretty even way of dealing with things rather than being at one end of the scale, laissez-faire or the other, dictatorial. In fact I had judged myself more harshly thatn my staff! I do try to deal with each situation on it’s merits and deal with everone equally and so it was gratifying to see that the results reflected this.”

I asked Dawn whether she thought that the course was making a difference?
“Yes. It has made me think not only about the kind of manager and leader I am but about the kind I would like to be. One of my faults as a boss is that I tend to do a lot of thinking and not much vocalising when I am trying to reach a decision. While I have always tried to involve and include everyone in the business it has become clear that I don’t communicate this as well as I might. I have been working on this and tried to ask people what they think at each stage of my decision making process rather than just reaching a decision myseld and then asking what they think.”

” I have learnt that leadership comes not from the decision itself but in how the decision is reached. I’m pleased to say that my staff have said that they have started to notice a difference!”

Thanks very much to Dawn. It is fantastic to see the founder and owner of such a successful business being prepared to learn the new skills neeeded for persoanl improvement and development and to take the business to the next level. We wish her luck and hope that she will share the outcome of the course with us later this year.

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